EN | DE | PT Contact How to study Login Register

Structure of the Spinal Cord - want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 852,397 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Structure of the Spinal Cord

The spinal cord consists of various regions of grey and white matter that in turn carry specific cell groups and nuclei depending on the vertebral level. This matter houses the ascending and descending tracts of the spinal cord that govern movement, the senses and autonomic functions.

The spinal column is the spinal cord in its entirety, including its hard exterior vertebrae and softer inner sheaths of cerebrospinal fluid and dura mater. This article will explain each area of the spinal cord, grouped by vertebrae, so that the keen anatomist can recognize the vast differences between each section of the peripheral nervous system.

Anatomy

Recommended video: Structure of spinal cord
Full structure of the spinal cord seen from a dorsal view.

Cervical Region

The cervical region of the spinal cord is oval in shape and consists of white matter, an anterior grey column, and a posterior grey column.

  • The white matter is made up of the fasciculus cuneatus and the fasciculus gracilis.

Fasciculus cuneatus - posterior view

  • The anterior grey column contains a medial cell group that is for the muscles of the neck, a central group of cells that transmit information from the accessory nucleus through the cervical spinal nerves C1 to C5 as well as the phrenic nucleus that also utilizes the cervical spinal nerves C3 to C5 and a lateral cell group that controls the musculature of the upper limb.
  • The posterior grey column contains the substantia gelatinosa, which is continuous with the spinal nucleus of the trigeminal nerve (CN V) at the level of the cervical vertebrae C2 and it also contains the nucleus proprius. The nucleus dorsalis, otherwise known as clarke’s column is absent.
  • The lateral grey column is absent.

Thoracic Region

Thoracic spinal cord - histological slide

The thoracic region of the spinal cord is round in shape and consists of white matter, an anterior grey column, a posterior grey column and a lateral grey column.

  • The white matter includes the fasciculus cuneatus from the thoracic vertebrae T1 to T6 and the fasciculus gracilis.

Fasciculus gracilis - axial view

  • The anterior grey column contains a medial group of cells that correspond to the trunk muscles.
  • The posterior grey column contains the substantia gelatinosa, the nucleus proprius, the nucleus dorsalis, otherwise known as Clarke’s column and the visceral afferent nucleus.
  • The lateral grey column exists and from it emerge the preganglionic sympathetic fibers .

Lumbar Region

The lumbar region of the spinal cord is round to oval in shape and consists of white matter, an anterior grey column, a posterior grey column and a lateral grey column.

Lumbar part of spinal cord - axial view

  • The white matter consists only of the fasciculus gracilis, for the fasciculus cuneatus is absent.
  • The anterior grey column includes a medial group of cells and a central group of cells. The pathway for the function of the musculature of the lower limb and cells for the lumbosacral nerve are within these cell groups respectively.
  • The posterior grey column houses the substantia gelatinosa, the nucleus proprius, Clarke’s column or the nucleus dorsalis between the lumbar vertebrae L1 to L4 and the visceral afferent nucleus.
  • The lateral grey column exists between the lumbar vertebrae L1 to L2 and sometimes L3 and contributes the preganglionic sympathetic fibers.

Sacral Region

The sacral region of the spinal cord is round in shape and consists of white matter, the anterior grey column and the posterior grey column.

  • The white matter is only a small amount comprising of only the fasciculus gracilis, without the fasciculus cuneatus.
  • The anterior grey column holds a medial cells group which is responsible for the musculature of the lower limb and the perineal area.
  • The posterior grey column is shared by the substantia gelatinosa and the nucleus proprius.
  • The lateral grey column is absent, however at the level of sacral vertebrae S2 to S4 there are some cells dedicated to parasympathetic outflow .

Summary

  • The spinal cord consists of five regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal (insignificant).
  • Each region consists of white region in the periphery (ascending and descending tracts) and grey matter in the center (neuronal cell bodies collections/ nuclei).
  • The white matter consists of the fasciculus gracilis & fasciculus cuneatus (which is absent in the lumbar and sacral regions).
  • The grey matter consists of anterior horn, posterior horn, and lateral horn (absent in the cervical spine). 

Structure of the Spinal Cord - want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 852,397 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

Reference:

  • Richard S. Snell, Clinical Neuroanatomy, Seventh Edition, Wolters Kluwer: Lippincott-Williams and Wilkins, Chapter 4, Table 4-1.

Author:

  • Dr. Alexandra Sierosławska

Illustrators:

  • Spinal cord - Yousun Koh 
  • Fasciculus cuneatus - posterior view - Paul Kim
  • Thoracic spinal cord - histological slide - Smart In Media
  • Fasciculus gracilis - axial view - Paul Kim
  • Lumbar part of spinal cord - axial view - Paul Kim
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

Related Atlas Images

Structure of the spinal cord

Spinal cord in situ

Spinal membranes and nerve roots

Continue your learning

Article (You are here)
Other articles
Show 13 more articles
Well done!

Register now and grab your free ultimate anatomy study guide!

Create your free account.
Start learning anatomy in less than 60 seconds.